Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21)

I love reading a good book. When I’m on holidays I read novel after novel, and really thrive on a good story line. I love getting so engrossed that I don’t want to put it down, that I want to find out what happens next. I love that sense of actually identifying with the characters so much that you can actually picture the scene in your mind as you read.

Less often I will read a biography. I find it really fascinating, particularly if I know something of a person, to read about their life and experiences, what shaped them to be the people they are, what were those keys moments which set them on a particular path in life.

More than any, I would love to read the biographies of the 12 disciples. But I can’t, because they have never been written and now can never be written. Scripture gives us an opening, a window into a sliver of their lives, but no more. As the Church’s Year rolls around and we make our annual journey with them, I often find myself wondering about them and reflecting on the little we know of them. Fishermen, revolutionaries, country bumpkins, tax collectors, certainly not the great and the good, the educated or the wealthy. They accompanied Jesus throughout his public ministry, yet never quite grasped all that he was trying to teach and explain. They are at times confused, at times get it wrong, at times are overcome with misplaced zeal, at times they seem so helpless. At the last they desert Jesus, abandon him, deny him.

On Easter Day they are locked away in the upper room, for fear of the Jews. Over the 40 days of Easter Jesus meets with them, opens their minds to the scriptures, and explains all that he has taught them over the previous 3 years. They witness his ascension and receive his commission. They return to the upper room, and seem to have the stirrings of a new confidence and a new vision. They choose Matthias to replace Judas. They devoted themselves to prayer and scripture, always waiting on God.

The Pentecost moment is still an extraordinary shock. They burst into the streets of Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel with boldness. What a transformation. Go back to the courtyard of the high priests house just a few weeks earlier, when Peter approaches under the cover of darkness and denies Jesus three times. Go to the cross, where only John remains with Mary. It was left to the women to visit the tomb to complete the ceremonial anointing. Now those men who got it so wrong are shouting from the rooftops that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The difference is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Back in the upper room, on the night before he died, Jesus gave his final words of exhortation and encouragement to the disciples. In that farewell discourse he promised them that when he returned to the Father, that God would send them another comforter, another advocate, one who would lead and guide and direct them in all that they were doing, who would continue to teach them as he had taught them, and who would empower them to fulfil their mission and ministry in the world. And that is exactly what happens.

The Holy Spirit comes upon those disciples, and takes everything that they knew, all they had heard, and learned and been taught, and makes it come alive. It is no longer head knowledge, it is heart living. The burning fire of the Holy Spirit took all they knew, all they had seen, all they had experienced, all they had heard and listened to, and made it come alive with fresh meaning and excitement.

Friends, that is what Pentecost is all about, that is what the Holy Spirit does for you and I. We need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to take all that we know about Jesus, and turn it into the knowledge of Jesus. Knowledge about Jesus is just information, knowledge of Jesus is a relationship, and that relationship transforms every facet of our lives.

We should begin every day by asking the Holy Spirit to come into our lives, to take us as we are and transform us into what God would have us be. Without the Holy Spirit all we have is head knowledge, intellectual knowledge. That is why Paul talks to the Galatians about the fruit of the spirit. It is not the fruit of the knowledge of God, it is not the fruit of reading the scriptures or of prayer, it is not the fruit of living a good life. The truth is that, without the Spirit, we can grow no fruit, but with the Spirit we can produce an abundant harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Every day we open our hearts and lives to the Holy Spirit, those fruit grow more and more. And the more that fruit grows in our lives, the more the love of God dwells in our hearts, the more we feel the compulsion to share that with the world, like those first disciples to go out and tell the world about Jesus, about faith, about the power of God. We have found the greatest treasure in the world when we have found the fruit of the spirit growing in our lives. Ask the people around you what they want, what the deepest desire of their heart is, or if they had one single wish, what would it be. The way they answer you might be different, the words they use might all be different, but in truth basically all their answers could be summed up in love, joy, peace. The answer to all the world’s deepest needs, longings and desires is not found in some esoteric experience or hallucinogenic substance, it is found in God, in a relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not a magic formula, it’s not a simple quick fix, growing fruit is slow hard work. Seeds are planted, cultivated, shoots appear, slowly they turn into a sampling, then a tree, and after years of work the fruit begins to appear, small at first, but growing more abundant with every passing year.

As we look at the first disciples, we can see that extraordinary chance brought about in them at Pentecost. That change continued right through to their lives’ end. All, except St John, we martyred for their faith, rather than deny or desert Jesus again. The presence of the Holy Spirit gave them the confidence to choose death rather than denial.

As we look at Christians all around us, people we have known, people who have influenced our lives, we can see the amazing transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

What do we see in our own lives as we look into the mirror? Is the Spirit brining a good harvest to fruition? Is the sapling starting to bud? Or are the seeds just being sown? Wherever we are at, we should make it our prayer every day that the Holy Spirit will live in us and grow in us.

Come down, O love divine,

seek thou this soul of mine,

and visit it with thine own ardour glowing.

O Comforter, draw near,

within my heart appear,

and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Luke 24:36b-48 – Easter 3 (B), 15/4/18

“While they were talking about this” seems like an odd start to a reading. We have missed a part of the story and we are trying to join in and wonder what they were talking about. If we had read the earlier part of the chapter we would have read of the empty tomb, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to them, their hearts burned within them, and they rushed back to the upper room, to the eleven and all the other disciples gathered there, and told them what Jesus said and did in Emmaus. They were excited, invigorated, thrilled that they Jesus had broken bread with them. The empty tomb was no longer a mystery but a miracle, and they rushed back to tell everyone. And that’s where our story today begins. You can imagine their breathless excitement as they run those miles to Jerusalem, to the upper room, burst in and the story pours forth. Then suddenly, surprisingly, the risen Jesus is there in the midst of them, speaking to them.

There are a number of key things in this story to observe as we study it. The first is the stress on proving the reality of the resurrection. There were, and indeed still are, all sorts of theories. The body was stolen. The appearances are some sort of mass hallucination or hysteria. It was a ghost. Each of the gospels is at pains to disprove each theory. In this story look at Jesus’ assertion that he is flesh and bone, not a ghost, and then the fact that he ate the piece of broiled fish. His resurrection body is different from his previous body. Mary didn’t recognise him until he spoke to her. He has the power to appear and disappear, but yet it is still a recognisably human body, flesh and bone, which needs food. It is no ghost, and no hallucination. It challenges us to think again about the resurrection on the last day. We will be raised, not with the body we had on this earth, but with a new, spiritual body. But we will not be some ghostlike person, we will raise a real, tangible body to new life in God’s presence.

The second key things that is stressed in this story is the necessity of the cross in God’s plan of salvation. Over the past weeks we have reflected several times on John’s description of the cross as Jesus glorification or moment of glory. The cross is the moment of glory because it reveals to us the true heart of God, a heart of love for all his creation, a willingness to die for us, a willingness to love to the uttermost, a willingness to give and not count the cost, to spend and be spent. The cross shows us, as nothing else can, the true depth of the love of God for you and for me.

If we had read on into verse 49 we would have found an important part of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples. He tells them to wait in the city until they are clothed with power from on high. They are given a mission by God, but they are not sent out to work out, in their own strength or from their own capabilities, how to fulfil that mission. They are sent out in the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. And so they are told to wait for the Spirit. Sometimes learning to wait on God is the hardest part of being a Christian. We want to do, to achieve, to begin what we are called to do, and we can’t wait. Yet waiting is a key part in learning to discern the voice of God and the direction of God. Usually God has a better plan than we do, and so we need to learn to wait for his plan and not try to do it all on our own. When we set out on any task under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will succeed. When we do it under our own direction we are doomed to failure.

What is the mission that he is sending them on? He begins by opening their minds to the scriptures which spoke of his suffering and death, and then proclaimed that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the Messiah’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witness of these things, he says. There, in a nutshell is the mission of the church. To tell the story of Jesus, to call the world to repentance and to proclaim a ministry of forgiveness. That is our mission, that is your mission. It isn’t the mission of the eleven, or all the followers of Jesus gathered in that upper room. It is the mission of every Christian believer down through the ages.

Repentance isn’t simply saying sorry, it is a turning of life around. It literally means about turn or about face. It is the turning of our back on one way of life, and embracing a new way of life. It is turning our back on selfishness and self-centredness, on anger and pride, on arrogance and vindictiveness, on all that hurts, demeans, damages or belittles another person. It is a turning to and an embracing of the way of Jesus, the way of love and peace, the way which kneels before our friends with basin and towel and washes their feet, the way which leads to the laying down of our life in service of and defence of another. Repentance isn’t just about stopping negative things, it is at least as much, if not even more, about embracing positive things.

In repentance we find forgiveness for our sin, and in forgiveness we find the power to forgive. I have come to realise that forgiveness is the greatest power in the world. Bitterness is a cancer which destroys us, and forgiveness is the cure for that cancer. Over and over we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.” The power of forgiveness is the power to break the hold of another’s sin on us. When we forgive, we take away their hold and their power. We become free to live again.

My friends, that is the message of Jesus that is to be proclaimed to all the world, beginning in Jerusalem. That is the message that you are a witness of, and that you are called to testify to in your family, in your school, in your work and in your social life. When we embrace repentance and forgiveness Jesus sets us free. That is the Easter message, that is the gospel. It is so simple, but so liberating.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Easter Day – John 20:1-18

I love reading a really good book, watching a good film or TV series, something with a plot which draws me in and leaves me wondering, who done it? Or what the twist is going to be at the end. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you, before you watch it, what is going to happen, it takes the interest from the story, and distracts us from following the detail as we try to process it.

Reading Scripture can be the same. We know the end of the story, we know the punchline, and so it can be hard to lay that aside. I would love to be able to read it as if I had never heard the stories before, and marvel as the plot unfolds.

I always find a tension on Easter Day. Our hymns, our worship, our entire liturgy is one endless Alleluia as we proclaim that Jesus has risen, and so, as we journey to the empty tomb we can miss the fullness of the sense of shock and bewilderment as Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple enter that tomb and try to process what has happened.

Try to place yourself in Mary Magdalene’s shoes. She was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. Many of the other disciples had deserted him, only a few remained. The body was prepared hurriedly for burial before the Sabbath. When the Sabbath was over she went to the tomb to finish the formal anointing of the body.

But more than the simple facts of the story, try to get inside her head. She was devoted to this rabbi, she had followed him, she had been healed by him, she had listened to him teach and seen his miracles. Then it all went so badly wrong. Arrest, trial, scourging, crucifixion, death, all within a matter of hours. Everything she had given her life to seemed to come crashing down. As she walked to the tomb that morning the only way I could describe her emotions is the word devastated. All her hopes and dreams, all she saw as her future, dashed in pieces.

She comes to the tomb before the first rays of sunlight had risen, and finds the stone rolled away. She was in such an emotional turmoil that she couldn’t even wait for the first light of day to dawn, she needed to do something, to keep busy. She found the tomb empty and ran to the disciples to tell them that the body had been stolen. They come, see for themselves, and return home. But Mary stays, weeping at the grave.

Then the extraordinary moment, the first resurrection appearance. She sees Jesus, but she does not recognise him. She speaks to Jesus, and he to her, yet still she does not recognise them. Then he calls her by name and she is transformed. It is one of the most wonderful and amazing scenes in scripture, touching in its intimacy.

Much earlier, in John 10, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and who his sheep know, the one who calls his sheep by name. Her we see those words come to life. Jesus calls his sheep by name, Mary, he says, and she relies, Rabbouni! And suddenly the world is different. In one sense nothing has changed, but in another everything has changed. The world around Mary is exactly the same as it was a moment before, but the world for Mary can never be the same again. With the calling of her name she recognises that her Lord and Master is alive, he has returned from the realm of death, and he calls her by name.

So often we find ourselves, metaphorically speaking, in Mary’s shoes. We are frightened, we are bewildered, we struggle to comprehend what has happened and what is happening, we are devastated by the events occurring around us. We might feel as if we have no hope, no future, no reason to keep going. When we find ourselves in that position, all we need is to hear the Good Shepherd calling us by name, and suddenly the world looks so different. Like Mary, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. The voice of the Risen Jesus speaking to us has the power of transformation.

Mary’s devastation turns to ecstasy, and she reaches out to hold Jesus. He speaks to her again and say, “do not cling to me.” When we have been through a Magdalene moment the obvious thing to do is cling to Jesus. Sorrow turned to joy, death turned to life and so we want to cling to the source of that transformation, to hold on to him for dear life and never let go. Like Peter on the mountain of transfiguration, we never want the moment to end.

We cannot appreciate it at the moment, but Jesus has greater things in store. The resurrection was momentous, beyond Mary’s imagining, but that was not the end of the story. The resurrection leads to the Ascension and Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit of Truth to lead us into all truth.

If Mary had clung to Jesus, if the story had stopped there, the world would be a poorer place. When the risen Jesus speaks to us and calls us by name, it is always only a stage on the road of transformation. If we cling too tightly to that moment, we cannot be led into God’s future. Like Mary Magdalene, we need to cherish the moment, but be prepared to be swept up in the movement.

And, like Mary, the risen Jesus sends us out into the world to proclaim that “I have seen the Lord”. When we know the joy of the risen Lord in our hearts, we need to go out into all the world to tell of his love and his power, so that all his sheep may be gathered into his fold.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the power of God – The Easter Vigil

Last night I concluded my reflection saying “On Good Friday Jesus goes ahead of us, into the darkness of death itself, to conquer that darkness and therein to light a fire, the fire of Easter light”. In his death Jesus enters the world of the dead to break its bonds asunder. To unpack this, let me take you to some words from St Paul.

Romans 5:12, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned. And from 1 Corinthians 15, words made famous through Handel’s music in the Messiah, “Since by man came death, through Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

 

The stories of creation at the beginning of Genesis are foundational stories, not because of their historical truth, but because they teach us theological truth. The story of Adam and Eve teaches us that all the world was created by God, that the world was created in order, that mankind has a particular place and responsibility in that order, and that mankind has rebelled against God. The Apple is a symbol of our rebellion, of our disobedience, of sin. Through our rejection of God’s divine intentions for the world, sin has formed a chasm, a gulf between Man and God. In Genesis Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden until sin forced them from the presence of God. So it is that Adam comes to typify sin, and Jesus is portrayed as the second Adam, the one who undoes the mistake of the first Adam. As John Henry Newman put it in the hymn, “O loving wisdom of our God! When all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight, and to the rescue came. O wisest love! That flesh and blood, which did in Adam fail, should strive afresh against the foe, should strive and should prevail.”

In the wonderful 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes about death and resurrection. The chapter comes to a wonderful climax, and you can almost hear Paul’s voice becoming louder and stronger as he proclaims, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

On the cross we see the love of God revealed to us, and in the empty tomb we see the power of God revealed to us. In an extraordinary turn of events, the shame of the cross has become the glory of the cross. As the world looked on it seemed that the powers of this world and the powers of darkness had done their worst by crucifying the incarnate Son of God. But the power of God is so immensely great that even as they savoured their apparent victory, God was at work. In dying, Jesus entered death and broke its power. There is now no sting in death, there can be no sting in death because Jesus has paid the price of our sin and opened access to the grace of God.

One of my favourite Easter hymns puts it so very simply, “Jesus loves, thy terrors now, can no more, o death, appal us. Jesus lives, thy terrors now, can no more, O grave enthral us. Alleluia. Jesus lives, henceforth is death but the gate of life immortal: this shall calm or trembling breath, when we pass its gloomy portal. Alleluia.”

On the night before he died Jesus spoke to his disciples with his final words of instruction and encouragement, and he prayed for them in what has become known as his high priestly prayer, John 17. In that he talks of his crucifixion as the moment of glorification. What is glory? It is sometimes described as fame, renown, honour or admiration. Other definitions talk of worship, praise and thanksgiving offered to a deity, and others speak of overwhelming beauty or splendour.  All of these draw together in the idea of glory in Jesus’ prayer, but it is even more, the glory is the full revelation of God to mankind. The whole life and ministry of Jesus has been building up to this great crescendo. From the moment of his birth every word, every action, every event showed us something of God, like gazing through the many facets of a beautifully cut diamond. But all of it was a preamble to the cross and tomb. Here love and power meet to reveal the face of God to the world, a God who cares for us so much that he is prepared to die for us. A God who cannot stand aside from the great chasm that has separated us from him and refuse to act. A God who is prepared to be reviled and insulted, beaten and spat upon, rather than react in anger. In the Passion we do not see simple dogged acquiescence with the situation, we see Grace incarnate towering above petty vindictiveness. Jesus teaches us not only how to live in grace, but how to die in grace.

After the resurrection has been proclaimed, the disciples remain in the upper room. Confused or ashamed, we cannot be certain which, or indeed more likely a mixture of both. Perhaps as we stand at the empty tomb we can identify with that, we know, but we do not fully understand. And like them, we need the risen Jesus to stand in our midst and speak to us, to teach and guide, to explain and unravel, to invite us to place our hands in his wounds and see that the power of God cannot be separated from the love of God, that passion and pain are so closely intertwined. If, in our confusion, we cling to nothing else, let us remember that wonderful Latin phrase, “amor vincit omnia,” love conquers all, the love of God conquers all our sin and brings us life through death, breaking the power of sin, and let us reflect on the words of the great Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross, “At the evening of our lives it is on love alone that we will be judged.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the love of God – Good Friday (John 18.1-19.42)

A few years ago Mel Gibson produced a film, the Passion of the Christ. He was heavily criticised for the graphic depiction of the crucifixion, the blood and the gore which were offensive to many in the audience. Reading John’s account of the Passion, one of the notable features is how different it is from Mel Gibson’s telling. John does not describe the physical side of it, except for a few details which help us to understand the significance of what we are reading. John tells the story quickly and succinctly, yet the reality of the physical agony can never be far from our minds as we journey with John from Gethsemane to Golgotha. But we can’t divorce that journey in chapters 18 and 19 from the opening 17 chapters. Every story, every detail, is building towards this moment. The gospel is one story, from incarnation to Ascension and Pentecost, and on to today. The gospel is the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ, it is the story of the love of God, and it is the story of a question, what kind of man is this we see hanging on the tree, and why is he there?

The Passion begins in Gethsemane, the agony in the Garden, the betrayal by Judas and the arrest. Questioned by Annas and Ciaphas, denied by Peter, put on trial by Pilate, voted on by the crowd, carrying his cross to Golgotha, the crucifixion, and darkness covering the whole earth. There is the final mockery, the inscription by Pilate in Latin, Hebrew and Greek, there are the soldiers dicing for his clothes, there are the handful of faithful disciples remaining, there are a few, final, thirsty words, then the cold, hard, dark death.

As we stand with those disciples at the foot of the cross and watch the events unfold, we are challenged to take a good, hard look at the violence and meanness of the world and the bloodiness of the cross, and to look at God hanging on that cross. To describe these events as the Passion of Jesus Christ might seem odd, and yet here, as no where else, we see the heart of God, the love of God, revealed to a broken humanity. We see the heart of God torn open between the folly of human sin and the unquenchable desire of God for his creation.

The cross is the story of sin, individual sin, abandonment and betrayal. It is the story of the Priests, of Pilate, of the soldiers, of the blood-thirsty crowds, of Peter, of Judas…and of you, and of me. It is the story of my sin, my abandonments, my betrayals of Jesus.

But the cross is bigger that even the sum of all our individual stories. It is the story of God’s unending love for God’s broken world, a world full of senseless evil and violence. A world where the good die young and the old grow lonely. A world of wars and cancer, of corruption and pollution. A world where there often seems little reason to hope or to dream.

The Passion of Jesus is the phrase we use to describe his suffering. But Passion also means love. God’s love is patient, kind, passionate. It is live which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all the, endures all things. It is love which never ends. It is love which does not go gently into that good night. On the cross God’s heart is torn between the passion of sin-induced suffering and the passion of grace filled love.

On the cross Jesus refuses to give in to the meanness, the arrogance, the evil which surround and enfold him. In the face of evil and despair, the Passion of his loving remains. To the cries for blood from the crowd he doesn’t respond. Against the clubs and whips that beat him he refuses to fight back. To Peter he utters the command to lay down his sword. To the soldiers who have torn his body to shreds he offers forgiveness. To the thief he whispers the hope of paradise. To the grieving disciples and his broken-hearted mother he offers words of comfort. On the cross the Passion of Jesus’ suffering is surpassed only by the passion of his love. Only the tenacity of God’s love is greater than the tenacity of humanity’s sin. In the heart of God there stands a cross, and on that cross God shows the fire of his love, a fire that the cold darkness of sin and death will never overcome.

Before he bows his head and gives up his spirit, Jesus speaks two final words, “I thirst”. In these words we see the whole gospel suddenly drawn together. Throughout John’s telling of the gospel we are the ones who thirst for Jesus. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, he turned water into wine. As the well with the Samaritan woman he offered the water of life. He heals the blind man by washing him in the pool at Jerusalem. He offers his own blood to quench the thirst of the disciples at the last supper. He is the living water that will never run dry. And now, in his dying breath, he says “I thirst.” Throughout the gospel the theme both spoken and unspoken is that we – that is to say the crowds, the disciples, the politicians, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outcast, the broken – thirst for him. In his final words Jesus turns the story around, and says that he is thirsty for us. In those two short, simple words, the final gasp of the dying Son of God, we hear the voice of God proclaiming to those at the foot of the cross, to the disciples in their grief and faithlessness, to the soldiers executing the torture of the state, to the chief priests protecting their political interests, to Pilate saving face, to you, to me, to the whole of creation and the entirety of the cosmos, “I thirst for you.” At the beginning of the Gospel Jesus turns water into wine in great abundance, suggesting that he is the good wine that will never run out. Now at the end the soldiers offer him sour wine as an act of mercy, as blood and water mingle down his broken body. He accepts their offering, yet his thirst is not for wine. His thirst is to do the will of the one who sent him, and that will is love. On the cross Jesus is the thirsty, passionate, unquenchable love of God for all of us.

He is the faithful one who lays down his life for his friends, the good shepherd who will never stop searching for his lost sheep, the living water of our baptism, and the one who will carry us through the stormy waters and deliver us to the far banks of the Jordan. Through the sweat and blood, the thorns and nails, the mockery and the humiliation, the burning fire of God’s love in Jesus remains.

After tasting the sour wine he says, “it is finished.” All goes black, as darkness envelopes the whole world. On Good Friday Jesus goes ahead of us, into the darkness of death itself, to conquer that darkness and therein to light a fire, the fire of Easter light.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the Servant of all – Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Over the past nights we have been trying to discover more of who Jesus is – the lamb of God, the king of the Jews, the great high priest. Each of those titles paints part of a picture for us, it reveals more of who Jesus is and why Jesus came down to earth, but even taken together they are only a beginning. Today, tomorrow and Saturday are the culmination, when we see the heart of God revealed in three stages. Tonight to the disciples in the upper room, an immensely private moment of revelation. Tomorrow, on the cross, revealed to the world, to Jew and Gentile, Roman and Israelite alike. Then Saturday at the tomb, revealed to Mary Magdalene, and the beginning of the unfolding of that revelation to the world.

Sunday week ago we read from chapter 12 of John, the Greeks coming to Philip and saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Here in the Upper Room is where we truly see Jesus, we see the heart of God stripped bare, we see what it means to be God, we see the love of God explained and unfolded, we see the true nature of God made plain before our eyes. We have journeyed from the wilderness through the years of teaching and miracles, and each of them has pointed us to this moment. Everything Jesus has said and taught, every miracle he has performed, suddenly finds its fulfilment in the upper room.

John sets the scene brilliantly in the first verse. Three simple brushstrokes which tell us all we need to know.

Firstly it is Passover. When John mentions a Jewish festival, he wants us to take its meaning and apply it to Jesus. We’ve done that in great detail on Monday night. The Lamb who offers himself to atone for the sin of the world.

Second, his time had come. Not simply to die, not simply to be a sacrifice of atonement, but crucially to leave the world and go to their Father. And equally crucially, he didn’t die and go straight to the Father. He went through death, broke its bonds, was resurrected to new life and revealed to his disciples before ascending to glory. It is an unexpected sequence of events into which the foot washing and the crucifixion fit as part of the ladder from this world to the Father’s world. They are the words the eternal Word must speak. They are the way home the Son must take.

Third, and most important, this is the act of supreme love. Think back to the Good Shepherd. He loves his sheep and they love him in return. And the supreme act of love is to lay down his life for his sheep.

And so, with three strokes of his brush, John sets the scene for what is one of the most extraordinary stories in scripture, one of the most compelling and yet the most disturbing and unsettling. This passage should challenge us as no other, it should force us to reassess our faith, our discipleship, our very existence and being.

The incarnate Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the word who was with the Father when creation was breathed into existence, stoops down and washes the feet of his friends. He takes off his outer robe, wraps a towel around himself, kneels before them and washes the dirt and filth of the mucky Palestinian roads from their blistered and rough feet. I can just about accept the Lord of Glory dying on the cross for the sin of the world, but to kneel before me and wash my feet really challenges me.

St Paul describes it in Philippians 2 saying, “Christ Jesus was in the form of God, yet he did not cling to equality with God. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and was born in our human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself, and became obedient, even to death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We should bow the knee before him, yet he kneels before us. We should be his slaves, yet he takes the position of a slave and calls us friends, brothers and sisters, children of God. This is what John means in the famous verse, 3:16, God so loved the world. This is love. This is want love looks like. And most crucially friends, this is how we are to love. Jesus said, “if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

We often talk about the love of God in quite abstract ways. Here we see what love is, what love does, and we are told to love one another in the same way. This is the hardest part of the gospel, because we are proud people. Yet if we call Jesus Lord, then we have no option.

When we begin to love like this, we discover it is an immense liberation. The more we give of ourselves, the more we spend and are spent, the more we find love shown to us and within us. The love of God wells up within us and spurs us on to love more. Instead of creating our own little kingdoms in which we reign supreme, we become part of the kingdom of God and find freedom in service, glory in shame, receiving in giving, life in death.

When we begin to live the way of love, suddenly all the paradoxes of our faith make sense. Even before his birth, the way of Jesus has been shown as turning the ways of the world on its head. It is only when we live the way of love that it all begins to fit together and make sense. Before Jesus was born Mary sang of God exalting the lowly and humbling the proud. In the upper room we see that song come to life. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I have shown you what love is. Go, and do likewise.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the High Priest – Wednesday in Holy Week (Hebrews 4:14-5:10)

This week we have looked at Jesus the lamb of God, and Jesus the king the Jews. Tonight we are looking at Jesus the High Priest.

At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the Magi offer three gifts to the baby Jesus, as the hymn puts it, “sacred gifts of mystic meaning”. Frankincense was the sweet smelling incense used in the worship of the temple. It was the gift for a priest, and that gift foretold the ministry of Jesus as High Priest. The word priest translates a Latin word which means bridge-builder. As we look at Jesus that’s a key image to hold in mind, that he is a bridge builder, the one who builds a bridge to bring God to man and Man to God. The Garden of Eden is the story of a perfect creation, where God walks with Man, and that creation being separated from its creator by sin and rebellion against God. Sin has opened up a great chasm between creator and creation, and there is nothing we can do to cross that chasm. The role of the priest is to build a bridge across that chasm, to enable Man to stand once more in the presence of God.

In the letter to the Hebrews Jesus is described as a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek. Who is Melchizedek? In Genesis 14 Abraham entered into battle to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been captured by the army of Elam. On his return Abraham was met by Melchizedek, who was both King of Salem and priest of the most high God. This man, whose name means “king of righteousness” blessed Abraham, and in return for the blessing Abraham gave him a tithe, 10% of all the spoils of the war. By this tithe Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek as the priest of God.

Years later Abraham’s great-grandson, Levi, was singled out by God to be the father of the priestly tribe. When the law was given on Mount Sinai to Moses, the levites were identified as the servants of the tabernacle, with the family of Aaron becoming the priests. The priests were responsible for making intercession to God for the people by offering the sacrifices demanded in the Torah. Among the priests one was selected as high priest, and he entered into the Holy of Holies once a year, on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, to place the blood of the sacrifice on the ark of the covenant. By these sacrifices, offered daily and yearly, the sins of the people were temporarily covered until the Messiah would come to take away their sin permanently.

So Jesus the High Priest stands in succession to Melchizedek and the Levitical priests. Jesus’ priesthood differs from theirs in that he offered only one sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole world. His sacrifice is once-for-all. Like the priests of the Old Testament he stands in the gap between us and God, making the necessary sacrifice. By that sacrifice we have been made righteous and are now able to enter into the presence of God. This mediation of Jesus is permanent and continual. While his sacrifice was once-for-all, his mediation for us continues. He communicates the will of God to us through his teachings and through the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the most crucial thing for believers to understand today is that it is because Jesus is our High Priest that we can approach God with confidence. We no longer need to go through a mediator, because he is the mediator of the new covenant. The chasm of sin has been breached by his sacrifice, the Temple curtain is torn in two, and entry into the presence of God is the privilege and the right of all who believe in Jesus. Hebrews 4:16 says since we have a great high priest, Jesus, the son of God, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Verse 15 describes him as one who has been tested in every respect as we are, yet without sin, and because of this he can sympathise with our weaknesses. What an amazing thought, that God sympathises with us. Do we picture the majesty of God, the grandeur of God, the unapproachability of God, the holiness of God. Jesus shows us another side of God, a God of mercy, a God who sympathises with us, a God who has come down from heaven, taken human form, lived a human life and shared or experience sot that he can fully and completely identify with us. Because he has shared in the depths of all human pain, agony and suffering, he is able not only to sympathise, but to offer mercy and help in time of need.

As we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, those are the qualities we see, sympathy, mercy, help. He reaches out and heals the deaf, the lame, the blind. He forgives the sinner and restores him. He share in grief as he stands and weeps with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus. As high priest, Jesus has not only bridged the chasm between God and Man, he has revealed the true nature of God.

From the beginning of his ministry until his dying breath, he exercised that dual role of revealing the invisible God, and being a bridge to bring mankind into the presence of God. Even as he hung on the cross that ministry continued. When the penitent thief turned to Jesus he opened to him the promise of paradise. Some of his final words were addressed to his mother and his beloved disciple, entrusting the one to the other.

One of the great paradoxes of faith is that Jesus is both the high priest and the Passover Lamb, he is the one who offers the sacrifice to atone for the sin of the world, and he is the sacrifice who is offered.

The High Priesthood of Jesus not only bridges the gap between God and Man, it also radically  redefines our concept of worship. Much of the Torah was concerned with the sacrificial worship of the Temple and ritual purity. All that has ended, because sin has been atoned for. Now St Paul instructs us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.

The offering is no longer the lamb, the offering is our lives – every aspect of who we are and all we do becomes an offering, in faith, to God. Worship is no longer restricted to a building or a place. The offering of our lives never ends. As we offer our time and talents to care for the poor and needy, to visit the sick, to bind up the broken-hearted, we are offering spiritual worship, an acceptable service to God.

All of that flows from the fountain of living water from which we drink in our times of corporate worship. As we break the bread and bless the cup we enter into Christ’s sacrifice. We don’t merely remember, or re-enact it, it is much deeper and more profound than that. When we celebrate the Eucharist time and eternity stand still, and we join in that upper room to become part of Christ’s offering. He, our great high priest, presides at the table, and we, his disciples are united with him and in him, and sent out to continue our offering in the world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the King of the Jews – Tuesday in Holy Week (John 18:28-19:22)

Last night we began our week of reflection by looking at John 1:29, behold the Lamb of God. Tonight our focus is on The King of the Jews. As we look at the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, let’s hold in our minds the pictures of the Passover Lamb from last night.

Kings today are very different from kings 2,000 years ago. Monarchies today are constitutional, they operate within a framework of law and democracy, their powers are restricted by elected government and law. They can let their will be known, and bring subtle pressure to bear on politicians, but little more than that.

In Jesus day it was quite different. Monarchies were absolute. The king’s word was law, and there was no court of appeal. Kings could promote one person and demote another, their will was supreme. If they disliked you, they could choose to end your life. Like today, when a king died he was usually succeeded by his son, or by a close male relative. I say usually, because there was another way to become king, that is, by starting a revolution, by military might and violence. Dynasties rose and fell through the strength, or lack of it, of their armies.

So when Jesus stands before Pilate, and Pilate asks him the question, “are you the king of the Jews”, Pilate knows he is not a hereditary king, so the question is, is this man a dangerous revolutionary? Pilate doesn’t really understand the Jews, their odd ceremonies and customs, the way they order their affairs, but Pilate knows, better than most, what a king is and what a king does. He knows what a kingdom looks like and how a king behaves. And he knows it’s his job to stop any such thing happening on his patch.

The idea that this man is a king is completely laughable. Pilate sees a poor man from the wrong part of the country, a man who has a small band of followers who all seem to have deserted him. Of course he is no king, but perhaps, just perhaps he is deluded enough to imagine he might be. Better ask and find out, Pilate thinks.

Pilate then discovers, as many had discovered before, and many have discovered since, that when you ask Jesus a question the response is likely to be another question. Where is this suggestion coming from, Jesus asks? Who put this idea in your head? Pilate waves this away. You must have done something wrong or you wouldn’t be here.

Jesus’ answer is both apparently incriminating, and also deeply revealing. His kingdom doesn’t come from this world. Pilate seizes on the fact that he claims a kingdom, but sadly misses the point. Some translations of the scriptures say, my kingdom is not of this world, which can lead to misunderstanding the point, a bit like Pilate, to imply that it is a spiritual or heavenly reality that has nothing to do with this earth. So think back to the time Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “thy kingdom come on earth, as in heaven”. The point is that Jesus kingdom does not come from this world. The world, as depicted throughout John’s gospel, is the source of evil and rebellion against God. Jesus is saying that his kingdom does not originate in this world, or share the qualities of this world. But it has a this-worldly destination. That is why he has come into the world, and that is why he has sent and continues to send out his followers into the world. His kingdom is not of this world, or from this world, but it is for this world.

That’s why he makes the obvious point, if his kingdom were of this world, his followers would take up arms and fights. That’s what kings did. They nearly did, of course, and Jesus had to restrain them. Jesus is claiming to be a king, but a totally new, different sort of king. Different from Judas Maccabaeus, different from Herod, and even more different from Caesar.

The kingdoms of the world are ruled by military might and the threat of violence. The kingdom of God is ruled by the power of love and truth.

“What is truth”, Pilate asks. Pilate looks at things from a this-worldly perspective. Truth comes out of the barrel of a gun.

For Jesus truth is that one man dies, so that another, Barabbas, might go free. Through all the cynicism, the casual local customs, the misunderstandings, the plots, the scheming, the betrayals and denials, Truth stands there in person, taking the death that would otherwise have fallen on the brigand. Pilate doesn’t see it at the time. Even the cunning Ciaphas probably didn’t appreciate the irony of it all. But John wants to spell it out for us. This is what the cross means. This is what truth is and does. Jesus is truth, and Jesus is dying in the place of Barabbas, in the place of Israel, in the place of the world, in the place of you and of me.

Every detail of the scene is laden with irony. The king is stripped naked, flogged, then mockingly dressed in a purple robe and crown of thorns. Slapped, beaten, spat upon, while they hail him as king of the Jews. Pilate says to the crowd, “behold the man.” Has Pilate any idea what he is saying? Behold the living embodiment of God, the one who made the invisible God visible. Here is the image of the creator of the universe, placed in the midst of his creation to see its true master and Lord. Yet all his rebellious subjects can do is mock, and slap, and deride. God does not enter into the world as some sort of superhero, sweeping through the rebel states with horses and chariots, defeating rebellion in a blaze of glory. Rather he comes in innocence, in truth, crowned with thorns, bruised, bleeding, loving to the very end.

As the tensions rise Pilate again speaks with Jesus, and finally brings him out to the judgement seat, the pavement, or in Hebrew, Gabatha, to pass sentence. Once more he offers the crowd a choice. And this time their words chill even the hardest heart, “take him away, crucify him. We have no king but Caesar.” It is a devastating thing to hear from the lips of the representatives of Judaism, God’s chosen people. God has been their king since creation. Now, having painted themselves into a corner in their attack on Jesus, they proclaim the hated, vile oppressor Caesar to be their king. Would they remember these words the next time they sing the Psalms that speak of God as king. The Lord is king, let the people tremble. Would they tremble as they remember their blasphemy?

Like them, we can sing of Christ our king in worship, and then in our lives exalt many false kings. Christ may be our king in church, but is he our king in work, in school, in the golf club, in our wallet?

As he was crucified Pilate caused a plaque to be fixed to the cross saying “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” The inscription was in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. These were the three great languages of the world, but more than their universality, they speak of three great contributions to the world and to world history. Greece taught the world beauty of form and beauty of thought. Rome taught the world law and good government. The Hebrew nation taught the world religion and the worship of the one true God. The consumption of all these things is seen in Jesus. In him was the supreme beauty and highest thought of God. In him was the law of God and the kingdom of God. In him was the very picture and image of God. All of the world’s seekings and strivings find their consummation in him. It is more than just symbolic that Pilate acclaims him king in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Behold, the Lamb of God – Monday in Holy Week (John 1:29-34)

This is an immense week, it is, by far, the most important week of the year for Christians, as we journey deeper into the Passion of Our Lord and Saviour. It is a week to grow in faith, a week to immerse ourselves in scripture, and a week to ask some hard questions. Each night we are going to talk about Jesus, to discover something more of his life, his mission, his teaching, his role, his destiny. We are going to look at different pictures, images that John uses to talk about Jesus. Tonight let’s start with a simple, but powerful picture, “behold, the Lamb of God.”

At the very beginning of the gospel, John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When I think of Lamb I think white, cuddly, fluffy, gambolling round the fields. So let me challenge you to dig into the scriptures to see what a Lamb means. There are four pictures I want to reflect on.

First is the Passover Lamb. The children of Israel had lived in Egypt for centuries, they had become assimilated into Egyptian culture. But there arose a new Pharaoh who knew not Jospeh, and who forgot the service the Israelites had rendered to him. He made them slaves, and as time went by their conditions worsened. God sent Moses to this new Pharaoh with a message to “let my people go.” The story progresses through each of the 10 plagues until the final, devastating one, the death of the firstborn. The Children of Israel are instructed to sacrifice a lamb, to cook and eat it, and to smear its blood on the lintels and doorposts. The blood of the lamb is a symbol to the Angel of Death to pass over that house and not slay the firstborn. This final, devastating plague led to the Children of Israel being allowed to leave Egypt, to throw off the yoke of slavery and return to the Promised Land. In Judaism the Passover became the key event which celebrated their deliverance and God’s faithfulness. Still today Jewish people celebrate the Passover each year, and the lamb is the symbol of sacrifice and deliverance.

The second picture is the altar in the great Temple of Jerusalem. Every morning and every evening the temple priests would sacrifice a lamb on the altar, to make atonement for the sins of the people. Jesus has not even begun his ministry, and John the Baptist is already foretelling all that is to come, that Jesus is the lamb who will be sacrificed, and that his sacrifice will deal, in a decisive, once-for-all way with the sin of the world.

The third picture is from the prophets, from Jeremiah chapter 11 and Isaiah 53, one led like a lamb to the slaughter. Both of these prophets spoke of one who, by his sufferings and sacrifice, meekly borne, would redeem his people. Those verses from Isaiah in particular became very precious to the early church as one of the most detailed forecasts of the sacrificial death of Jesus in the Old Testament. John the Baptist is drawing together prophecy and reality, and pointing ahead to Calvary as Jesus embarks on his mission.

The fourth picture is less well known to us, though it was important to the Jews in Jesus’ day. Between the end of the Old Testament writing and the coming of Jesus was the period of the Maccabees, a Jewish kingly family who led insurrections against the Romans. In those days the lamb, particularly the horned lamb, became the symbol of a great conqueror. It was the symbol of Judas Maccabaeus, of Samuel, David, and Solomon. The lamb was not a picture of gentleness and meekness, but of conquering majesty and power.

The picture John the Baptist draws for us pulls together all of these images, the Passover, the temple sacrifices, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the horned lamb of the Maccabees, and each describes the person and the ministry of Jesus.

As John the Evangelist tells his gospel story, he includes some small yet important details. John describes Jesus’ death as taking place on the day before the Passover ceremony, in other words, at the moment when the lambs to be used in the Passover were being slaughtered. For John this is the controlling narrative, the key picture. Thousands upon thousands of lambs being sacrificed to remember the Passover. Jesus being sacrificed to reenact the Passover at a new level. Here is the Passover par excellence. In the first Passover the blood of the lamb served as a protection against death, in this new Passover the blood of Jesus serves as protection against eternal death. In the first Passover the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt, in this new Passover all creation is delivered from its slavery and bondage to death and corruption. This new sacrifice breaks the power of sin, the law, and the grave, and opens up to us the way into the presence of God for eternity.

1 Corinthians 5:7 says, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” In the story of the Passover in Exodus the Children of Israel had to prepare hurriedly for their flight from Egypt. They did not have time to allow the bread they were to bake to rise, and were instructed to bake bread without leaven. Writing to the Corinthians Paul picks up in that image and calls on them to abandon the leaven of malice and wickedness, and to replace it with sincerity and truth, the unleavened bread.

Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb, sacrificed to take away the sin of the world, to save us from eternal death and damnation. That should be a cause for celebration for us. His death has done what the sacrifice of millions of lambs could not do, it has made atonement with God. That might sound like a big concept, and it is. But at its heart jt is simply making us at-one with God. Before the death of Jesus our sin separated us from the presence of God. From the Garden of Eden humanity thought it knew better than God, we followed our own lusts, passions and desires. Sin entered into the world, and a barrier was erected between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, a barrier which we did not have the power to demolish. Christ, our Passover Lamb, by his pure and undefiled sacrifice, has pulled down that dividing wall and opened up access to the presence of the divine glory. When we come to him in faith and trust we are washed, we are cleansed from sin, we are made holy and worthy to stand in the presence of God, not in our own strength, but by his blood, shed on the cross to make atonement. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John 3:14-21 (Lent 4, Year B, 11/3/18)

I’ve heard many sermons on John 3:16, from many different people, and most of them could be summed up as “turn or burn”. It’s one of the most quoted and one of the most preached upon verses of scripture, and dare I suggest one of the most abused. I’m tempted to dive straight in to that verse and dissect it, to try to help us all understand a little more of what it says, and also of what it doesn’t say. Our lectionary this morning is really helpful because it puts it in a proper context, reading verses 14-21, so let’s look at it all.

 

Verses 14 and 15 take us back to the strange story in Numbers 21, helpfully read as the Old Testament today. The Children of Israel left Egypt following the plagues, the Red Sea had parted and they were in the Sinai desert. It wasn’t long before they grumbled against God, and said they wished they were back in Egypt in slavery. God sent a plague of deadly, fires snakes. Many were bitten and died. The people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake, place it on a pole, and put the pole in the midst of the encampment. Anyone who was bitten by a snake was to look at the pole, and they would be healed. The bronze serpent was only ever a symbol to point to God who gave healing. But by the time of King Hezekiah the Israelites were worshipping the bronze serpent, and so he ordered it to be destroyed. 

 

John takes the story as a sort of parable for Jesus. The Children of Israel were afflicted by a deadly disease, they looked at the one raised up on the pole, that turned their thoughts to God and he healed them. Sin is the deadly disease that afflicts us, that leads us to certain death. When we look to Jesus, raised high on the cross, we come to God for healing from sin and restoration to eternal life. John talks of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. John uses exactly the same words to talk of Jesus being lifted up to glory at his father’s right hand following his resurrection. The cross and the ascension and glorification are inextricably linked. Jesus could not have been glorified without being crucified. Jesus was glorified by being crucified. Without the cross there is no crown. 

 

“That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” There’s enough in this verse for several sermons, so let me just give a few brief thoughts. Believing in him could be very vague. I think there are a number of strands to what it means. It means believing in the love of God, believing in the will and desire of God to forgive us and restore us to fellowship with him, believing that Jesus is truly the son of God, God incarnate, believing in what Jesus said and did, and then crucially taking that and acting upon it. Belief is not simply intellectual assent, it must translate into a life of obedience. 

 

Eternal life is the life of God himself. It is not life in eternity, it is life both now and then. In this life the key marker of eternal life is peace. Peace with God, peace with our fellow men, peace with life itself, peace with ourselves. And all of that points us to an even greater peace, it reminds us that everything in this mortal life is only a shadow of the life to come, a foretaste of all that is yet to be. 

 

That leads us into the famous verse 16: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

 

Let me give you three things to reflect on from that verse. Firstly it tells us that the initiative in salvation lies with God. God reached out to the world and sent his Son to save us from sin and death. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God has to be pacified, persuaded to forgive. Sometimes the picture is of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle Jesus. Sometimes it seems as if Jesus did something to change the attitude of God. But read it again and you will discover these are all false pictures. God took the initiative to seek and save the lost by coming down and walking amongst us. I’ve often heard people talk about being saved as if they have done something wonderful for God, and God should almost be grateful to them. It is God who reaches out to us, and all we can do, all we need do is say yes to him. 

 

The second thing it tells us is that the core of God’s being is love. God is not the angry tyrant looking down on those who fall into sin and waits to punish them. God does not want to bring the universe to heel, God is love and all he wants is love. God never smashes men into submission, because that is not love. 

 

The third thing it tells us is of the depth and width of God’s love. God does not love the Children of Israel so much that he sent his son, or indeed any other nation, tribe or race, it is the world that God loves. Jesus was not sent for and to those who would love him in return, he was sent for and to the whole world. The unloveable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the man who loves God and the man who never thinks of him, the man who rests in the love of God and the man who spurns it – all are included within the vast inclusive love of God. As St Augustine said, “God loves each one of us as if there was only one to love.”

 

Many preachers focus on the word “perish” and miss the words “should not.” If they read on into verse 17 it might help. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is no judgement, no condemnation, no perishing. But look at it this way. We judge ourselves, we condemn ourselves, when we refuse to accept Jesus. God offers us love, we can accept that love, or we can reject that love. God does not judge us or drive us away, the offer is there, always there, ready and waiting for us. At the end of the day we then must make the choice to love, or not to love. And in that choice we make our judgement. God does not condemn us, but we can condemn ourselves if we refuse to respond to that love. 

 

Verse 19: “this is the judgement, that light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.” This is one of John’s great themes, light and dark. Jesus is the light of the world, the radiance of the splendour of God. We must choose who enter into that light, or remain in darkness. We must choose, not God. God makes an offer to us, we choose how we respond. 

 

The entire gospel, in a nutshell, is that God loves us, God reaches out to us, God offers us eternal life. All we need to do is to make a decision, to accept God, or to reject God. We can’t have it both ways, we can’t sit on the fence. If we accept God we enter into light, and we live in the light, as people of prayer, worship, scripture, sacrament, people who not only hear the words of Jesus, but who shape our lives around those words. Or we reject God and do our own thing. We can walk out of this church in a few minutes and forget all about God for the next few weeks or months. I have often been asked to I believe in hell. I do, but not in the fiery furnace. I believe hell is a cold, dark place, because it is where we go when we put ourselves beyond the love and the light of God. The only torture is the torture of not allowing ourselves to be loved. God loves us, but love needs a response for it to mean anything. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment